Euro 2020: Scotland, N. Ireland & Rep. Ireland look to progress

It's Scotland vs Israel, Bosnia & Herzegovina vs Northern Ireland and Slovakia vs Republic of Ireland on Thursday in the semi-finals of the delayed Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs.

Matthew Crist

Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are all in action on Thursday as they battle for a place at the European Championships next summer.

The games were originally due to be played in March but after a global lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, were postponed, along with Euro 2020 itself.

As a result, the play-off semi-finals will now take place on Thursday in empty stadiums as one-off ties before the finals on November 12.

Scotland vs Israel

Thursday’s encounter represents the fourth meeting in two years between Scotland and Israel with the winner of this tie will face either Serbia or Norway in the European Qualifying play-off final on November 12.

This will be the fourth meeting in two years between Scotland and Israel with both sides having registered one win apiece along with a 1-1 draw last month in the Nations League.

Scotland have lost just one of their previous six matches against Israel, but their two previous play-off ties in European Qualifying have seen them eliminated having been beaten 2-1 on aggregate by England in 1999 and losing 6-1 on aggregate to the Netherlands in 2003.

On Wednesday it was confirmed that Stuart Armstrong had tested positive for coronavirus and will miss the upcoming internationals with Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie also having been identified as close contacts – meaning they must self-isolate.

“We have lost six players from the squad. It is up to us to make the nation smile tomorrow night. We know we have the nation behind us,” said Scotland boss Steve Clarke pre-match.

“Everyone is aware of the size of the game. It is a knockout competition now and we will have to deal with it. It can go to 120 minutes, and it can go penalties.”

Bosnia & Herzegovina vs Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland lost both of their group fixtures against Bosnia and Herzegovina in September and October 2018 and will face thier famialr foe once more knowing that a win could set-up a huge all-Irish play-off final with the winner facing Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland on November 12.

But Northern Ireland don’t have great form in play-off matches, with their only previous play-off for a major tournament, against Switzerland in November 2017, saw them lose 1-0 on aggregate in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Bosnia’s record isn’t much better either; they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Portugal in November 2009 and again to the Portuguese 6-2 in November 2011, this time a 6-2. They also went down 3-1 on aggregate to the Republic of Ireland in November 2015.

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis came on as an 83rd-minute substitute for Rangers last Sunday, meaning he is fresh as he looks to break Pat Jennings’ caps record by making his 120th appearance in this fixture.

“Players want to be there. Players want to experience the feeling of being at a competition that is renowned worldwide now and being on the biggest stage, so there’s no bigger incentive,” said Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough before the game.

Slovakia vs Republic of Ireland

Should the Republic of Ireland beat Slovakia, they could set up a meeting with Northern Ireland in the European Qualifying play-off final on November 12, though Stephen Kenny is still searching for his first win as Republic of Ireland manager.

His side will take confidence that they are unbeaten in all five of their previous matches against Slovakia though, with four draws and a 1-0 win back in March 2007.

Ireland’s last single-leg play-off match in qualifying for the European Championships was back in December 1995 when they lost 2-0 to the Netherlands at Anfield, while Slovakia are playing in a play-off for the first time since November 2005, when they lost 6-2 on aggregate to Spain and failed to make the 2006 World Cup.

Republic of Ireland skipper, Seamus Coleman, looks likely to miss out after hobbled out of Everton’s 4-2 Premier League win over Brighton with Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka out injured for the home side.

Talking of a possible European Championship tie in Dublin next summer, Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kelley said: “We know the opportunity that does exist and the possibility of the European Championship in Ireland is unique, really. It’s never happened before and may never happen again.”

Thursday’s Euro 2020 play-off games

Bulgaria vs Hungary
Iceland vs Romania
Bosnia & Herzegovina vs N. Ireland
Slovakia vs Rep. Ireland
Norway vs Serbia
Scotland vs Israel
Georgia vs Belarus
North Macedonia vs Kosovo

Check out or odds for all Thursday’s Euro 2020 play-off games

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